Approximately half of pulmonary embolism cases are diagnosed in an emergency context. The classic symptoms of pulmonary embolism are absent in intensive care unit patients who are under sedation and on mechanical ventilation. In this scenario, after the development of sudden, severe hypotension, pulmonary embolism must be considered and included in a differential diagnosis according to the cause of admission. Echocardiography may be of further help in a differential diagnosis of the cause of shock.
We present a case of a 44-year-old Caucasian man who was admitted to the intensive care unit with a diagnosis of community-acquired pneumonia and respiratory failure and who required invasive mechanical ventilation. During admission, the patient developed sudden, severe hypotension that was refractory to treatment. An adequate diagnosis with transthoracic echocardiography was unachievable because of a poor echocardiographic window. However, the combined use of electrocardiography and transesophageal echocardiography established pulmonary embolism as a high-probability diagnosis based on findings of right ventricular pressure overload and right ventricular dysfunction. The unfavorable hemodynamic situation of the patient prevented his transfer to carry out other complementary tests that could confirm the diagnosis of pulmonary embolism. Fibrinolytic and anticoagulant therapies were administered immediately, and a favorable clinical outcome was achieved.
This case highlights the fundamental role that echocardiography played in a patient in the intensive care unit who presented with shock secondary to pulmonary embolism with an unfavorable hemodynamic situation and in whom an unnecessary transfer to perform other complementary diagnostic tests was avoided. The combined use of electrocardiography and echocardiography provided a complete differential diagnosis, identifying the cause of shock and allowing the initiation of specific treatment without further delay. Knowledge of the echocardiographic results that are characteristic of pulmonary embolism can aid in the diagnosis.
Financed by the National Centre for Research and Development under grant No. SP/I/1/77065/10 by the strategic scientific research and experimental development program:
SYNAT - “Interdisciplinary System for Interactive Scientific and Scientific-Technical Information”.